Should schools rank?

Published: Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 11:05 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 11:31 a.m. CDT
Bill Messerole and Steve McDermott

Should schools use class rank as an organizing system for students?

That’s the question being asked since Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines decided to drop class rank.

Class rank is a system that puts students in order, from highest to lowest, based on the students’ grade-point average (GPA). Class rank is mostly used by colleges to see where a student stands within his or her class academically.

Creston High School is part of two-thirds of high schools nationwide that use the class-rank system, while the last third no longer report it.

“I could see where schools have gone away from the rank system,” said Creston High School Principal Bill Messerole.


While there haven’t been incidents at CHS, a Dowling counselor described a reason for the school board’s decision to rid the Catholic school of class rank.

According to an Iowa City Press Citizen story, “Dowling seniors who have a GPA of less than 3.56 currently fall into the bottom 50 percent of their class.”

Tom Shively, Dowling’s academic counselor, said in the story, the school “had quite a number of students who had 3.2 or 3.3 GPAs, with ACT scores of 22, 23, who were being denied by state schools.”

According to National Association for College Admission Counseling, colleges that consider rank to be an important part of the admission process have dropped from 42 percent in 1993 to 19 percent in 2011.

However, according to Creston Superintendent Steve McDermott, Creston may stick with class rank.

“It’s possible, as we talk about grading and grading systems,” said McDermott. “We have talked about class rank, but I don’t think any decisions are coming in the very near future. It’s part of the discussion though.”

Several Creston students agree with Dowling’s decision.

“I do agree with getting rid of it, because it almost puts students who aren’t as high up to feel bad,” said CHS junior Sidney Fry. “I think it’s just a whole bunch of numbers.”

Tiffany Scott, CHS senior, said she sees it both ways.

“It makes people feel crappy if they don’t do good enough, if they’re not in the top 10 (percent), for some people,” said Scott. “Some people work harder to try to get a higher GPA.”


There are difficulties with having class rank, while there can be difficulty with not having it, according to McDermott.

“It’s difficult to rank students that are taking various courses. Not all high school students take all the same courses,” said McDermott. “Also, colleges and universities over the years used class rank when they looked at entrance qualifications.”

Rather than using class rank, some schools use regent admission index (RAI), which combines different academic factors, and is used in exchange with rank when rank is not used.

According to the University of Iowa’s website, RAI combines ACT score or SAT equivalent, high school percentile rank, high school GPA and the number of high school courses completed in core subject areas. Each factor is multiplied by a certain number based on weight, then all are added together to get the final number.

“The class rank in a class of 30 graduating seniors is very different from a class rank of a graduating class of 300, and how do you really compare apples to apples, schools to schools? It’s difficult,” McDermott said. “Honestly, today our focus more and more is on helping individuals grow and advance rather than sorting students.”

And, colleges will still look at GPA, according to Messerole.

“It’s the type of course you take, and how well you do in those courses,” Messerole said. “GPA is still an important factor because colleges would rather see a low GPA with more rigorous coursework.”

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